Living the Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness

When someone says the word ‘kindness,’ what we think of can be a mixture of other words as we consider how to define it. We think about how people are nice; that they act in a loving way; or that people who are kind must be generous.

All these simple descriptions are a part of what it means to be kind. I suppose we can also consider how another person perceives what we think is a kindness on our part. However, it’s a pretty sure thing that when we act out of love and humility and when we are kind in an obviously selfless way, people are more open to us and will name ‘kindness’ for what it is. Sometimes kindness can be shown by just using good manners.

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12

In relationships, we can show kindness by treating friends graciously even during challenging times. We are kind to someone we call ‘friend’ when we accept them for who they are, not expecting them to fulfill our definition of what they should be. In healthy relationships, we’re honest, firm, and gentle when the friendship is challenged by discord. What’s sometimes difficult for me is being honest and firm in a kind way.

“Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty.” Job 6:14

Sometimes we fail to be kind because we just don’t think of it. We create busy lives and we don’t make acts of kindness a habit. We’re rushing right past people who need it.

But there’s comfort in knowing that it’s only through God’s Spirit that kindness can be a consistent part of a believer’s experience. Quite simply, we surrender to the Holy Spirit and listen for the prompts to act kindly. That’s how we live the fruit of the Spirit; by surrendering to him.

Most people are familiar with the term Random Acts of Kindness. And people are familiar with a variety of popular ways to show kindness in an ordinary day. Like holding a door open for someone, or paying for the order of the stranger behind us in line at the drive-through.

Here are some other ideas: Offer someone your pen and let them keep it. Give your umbrella to a stranger. Write someone an encouraging note. Tape a microwave popcorn packet to a movie rental kiosk and leave a short note telling them you hope they enjoy the movie. Pick up litter on the beach. Donate your cut hair to a charity that makes and distributes wigs made from the donated hair. Send care packages to military personnel overseas.

On the website The Kind Blog, stories about how folks are being kind are the norm. Truly, kindness shows people that you believe they have value.

Regardless of how you define ‘kindness,’ God rewards you when you choose to selflessly help others. Make it a point to perform random acts of kindness today and to top it off, don’t let anyone else find out.

Father, you are the example of kindness I will emulate today. With my eyes on you and your character, I’ll learn more and more how to show kindness the same ways you’ve shown it to me. Thank you for giving us opportunities to be kind. Guide us to kindness so we’ll act on them. For your sake and for your glory, amen.

Be a blessing to someone today.

 

Living the Fruit of the Spirit: Peace

 

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

In the list of fruit which will be evident in our lives as we submit to the Holy Spirit, peace is mentioned third in line. But that doesn’t mean we should master love and joy before we can have peace. The Spirit begins working all fruit in us as soon as we give our lives to Christ and decide to follow him.

If you’ve read my thoughts on Love and Joy, you might begin to understand that we don’t ‘tackle’ them as if striving to exhibit the fruit. Jesus says these are for the taking when we’re surrendered to his will. After a while, peace is our natural state of being. In my experience, agreeing with God about his purposes and the way he does things has proven to be a pretty good idea.

“Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.” Psalm 119:165

When Jesus healed a woman who had suffered bleeding for twelve years he told her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” (Luke 8:48) Likewise, a local woman known for her sins crashed a party and poured expensive perfume on Jesus, washing his feet with her hair. While others criticized her, Jesus affirmed her. “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” (Luke 7:48, 50)

When a Jew talks about peace, the word means ‘shalom.’ Shalom encompasses more to a Jew than a state of mind and body. To wish someone this kind of peace is to also wish them prosperity and wholeness. I think it’s significant that Jesus also recognized the faith they had in him. Trusting God completely will bring that kind of peace.

“And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

From the moment Christ’s birth was foretold, peace defined him. His character and attributes never suggest chaos or unrest. His wholeness, peace, love, and joy become ours. The peace the world offers is fleeting and often based on emotions, but God’s peace is based on the faith we have in him. It’s based on his gifts of unconditional acceptance and unconditional love. With the peace of God, our condition can be calm and not anxious, regardless of what’s happening around us.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Do you know someone who seems to always be at peace? What can you learn from them about living a life of peace? How do you respond when your circumstances challenge your inner life?

Jesus, we offer ourselves to you and trust you. Thank you for sending your Holy Spirit to grow us and mature us in the grace you give, a never-ending grace. Your peace is what we need. We ask you to not remove us from the world, but protect our hearts from the anxieties we see there. We come to you for rest and worship you as our Prince of Peace. Amen

Living the Fruit of the Spirit: Joy

“The joy of the Lord is your strength.”Nehemiah 8:10

Joy is a gift. Like the other fruit of the Spirit, it’s not something we conjure up. It’s present in our lives because it’s the joy of our Lord. For instance, when Jesus sent 72 of his disciples to spread the gospel, on their return, he got super excited about the results of their efforts.

“At that time, Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” Luke 10:21

If Jesus could be filled with joy ‘through the Holy Spirit,’ why would anyone turn down a gift that creates spontaneous worship?

Joy is a permanent possession, but happiness is fickle and fleeting. While it may be hard to distinguish between joy and happiness, I like to think of joy as something I simply can’t explain. My happiness is usually expressed as something I have or don’t have. For instance, if I say “I’m not very happy today” or “I’m so happy right now!” you might ask me what’s causing my happiness or lack of it. I’d probably be able to tell you why. If I can’t tell you exactly why, it’s most likely joy.

If you look up the word joy in a dictionary, you’ll see descriptive words like exhilaration, delight, sheer gladness. When defined like this it can result from a great success or a very beautiful or wonderful experience like a wedding or graduation. But this definition of joy, one that most people understand, is from a whole different perspective. I’m here to tell you, it’s not nearly as amazing as the joy I experience from knowing God.

The joy we experience as we follow Jesus can feel a little overwhelming. It can be confusing because we’re joyful and, like I said, we can’t explain it. Sometimes I will try to figure it  out. And when I do that, what I usually find is oodles of gratitude for the grace God gives. But my little brain can’t figure out that kind of grace so anymore, I don’t even try.

Because I’m experiencing the joy of the Lord I don’t fret over things much. I’m certainly concerned about important things; I just don’t lose sleep over stuff like I used to. Experiencing joy lets me lead a simpler life. My life is more full because God has emptied me of most of the extraneous stuff I used to think was important. That sort of change in my life has brought me peace and I more easily trust God that things will eventually be okay.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

Joy comes from contact with God and availing ourselves of His love. When we know our identity in Christ, joy naturally follows. That’s a joy we want everyone to experience, so we take the story of Jesus to everyone as often as possible.

On the night he was arrested, Jesus took his closest disciples to a private place and prayed for them. It gives me great joy and brings me to tears when I learn that he also prayed for the people they would reach with the gospel. People like you and me. He prayed that we would know God as he knows God and to be filled with his glory. He prayed for our protection. He prayed that we would know the unity he and his Father know. He prayed that we’d have his joy in all things.

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.” John 17:13

When Jesus says “full measure,” he means it. “Full measure” will be another thing–like joy–we’ll probably never be able to explain. Because if God is eternal, how much is “full?”

I don’t know, but it sure does make me happy!

Dear Father in Heaven, remember your promise that your joy will be in us and that our joy will be complete. We praise you in our joy for your faithfulness to complete the work you’ve begun. Help us to walk in the Spirit and show evidence of you that others will see, then come to know your joy as we do. Amen

 

Praying for Yourself With Humility

She prays this earnest prayer when she realizes she is prone to behaving like, as we used to call it, a ‘fuddy-duddy.’ I believe the prayer fits no matter what our age is.

Lord, you know better than I know myself that I am growing older and one day will be old.

Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion.

Release me from craving to straighten out everybody’s affairs.

Make me thoughtful but not moody; helpful but not bossy.

With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all; but you know, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end.

Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point.

Seal my lips on my aches and pains, they are increasing and love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by.

I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of other’s pains but help me to endure them with patience.

I dare not ask for improved memory, but for growing humility and a lessening cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others.

Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.

Keep me reasonably sweet. I do not want to be a saint, some of them are so hard to live with, but a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the devil.

Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places and talent in unexpected people, and give me O Lord the grace to tell them so. Amen

Anonymous Nun, Seventeenth century

Be a blessing to someone today

Our Responsibility: The Image of God

“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:26-27

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Genesis 2:7

Of everything God created, we are the only creatures designed in His image and His breath is the breath we breathe.

We guard the image of man by respecting our bodies and respecting the image of God in others. We make decisions about right to life and quality of life based on what God sees and expects. We understand that, from conception to death, all human beings are people God loves. We know the things of God because we know His character.

We guard the image of man through our worship of God.

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”

Praising God requires our breath–His breath. When we give honor to God we’re cherishing our own bodies, spirits, and souls.

God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” Genesis 1:28

In the beginning, God had a plan. His plan, which included you and me, was for a world where we live as stewards of everything He made. Ruling over God’s creation means being the authority. With that authority we undertake the responsibility of care. Caring includes listening, so we’re attentive to the needs of others created in God’s image.

We’re attentive to the needs of everything God created. “Every living creature that moves on the ground.” To ‘subdue‘ in Hebrew means to conquer and hold in bondage. We make it our servant. However, we must remember that God always saw harsh treatment of anyone in bondage as sin. Hence, while we may conquer Earth and everything in it, we respect those things that are under our control. We answer to God for that.

When the idea is a simple one, God is speaking. If we’re in tune with God, guarding the image of man and caring for everything he gave us becomes second nature. Implementing The Golden Rule in reference to our planet and in regard to others is the solution to our questions every time.

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you,

for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12

Christmas Carols Meeting Scripture

My favorite Christmas music will always be traditional carols. I grew up with them and appreciate them even more now because I see how most are scripturally sound. For instance, Bible verses apply to 𝗮𝗹𝗹 of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”

Here’s how:
The first verse is all from Luke 2:8-14
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King!
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’ angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King!

And then,
Christ, by highest heaven adored, (Hebrews 1:6)
Christ, the everlasting Lord; (Isaiah 9:6)
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of the favoured one. (Luke 1:28)
Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see;
Hail, th’incarnate Deity: (Colossians 1:15)
Pleased, as man, with men to dwell, (Philippians 2:6-7)
Jesus, our Emmanuel! (Isaiah 7:14)
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King!

Hail! the heaven-born
Prince of peace!
Hail! the Son of Righteousness! (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings. (Malachi 4:2)
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die: (John 3:16)
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth. (1 Corinthians 15:22)
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King !”

Whenever I read the words of a song, in addition to singing along to the tune, I see that song differently. Not in a 𝘣𝘦𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘳 way really, but with even more meaning.

And yes, I’ve started to listen to Christmas music since a month or so ago.

Question: What is one of your favorite traditional Christmas carols? Do you have a favorite so-called ‘secular’ Christmas song? One of my favorite traditional ones is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” When it comes to secular music, I like to sing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Bonus Like: “We need a Little Christmas” from the musical “Mame.”

 

Staying With a Hard Teaching

God speaks into our condition with the aid of scripture, teaching, circumstances, and other people. If we’re tuned into the Spirit who lives in us, we understand what God is saying to us. The Holy Spirit is who Christ said “will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”


The passage about a group of disciples leaving Jesus in John, chapter 6 came to mind and gave me necessary insight as I was having a conversation with friends in recovery.

Someone described how his life had been before recovery and this is the passage his story made me think of.

“On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’ … From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.'”

The epiphany for me was discovering that I had seen Jesus the same way Peter did. Unlike the disciples who left because they didn’t think they could follow such a “hard teaching,” I was willing to stay with Jesus and let him teach me how to obey and live by that hard teaching.

Then to paraphrase Peter, using my personal experience, I asked “To whom and to what would I go? Why would I want to leave you and go back? That lifestyle almost killed me and without the benefit of eternal life through you.”
I thank God for the Holy Spirit living inside me. I don’t deserve it, but because I decided to trust Him, God entrusts me with His presence in me.

Wow.

“Who Am I To You?”

Jesus and his disciples came to the region of Caeserea Philippi and he asked them one of the most important questions that could be considered about himself. First, he wanted to know what people were saying about him.

And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

Then Jesus asks, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:14-15)

Jesus also wants to know who we say that he is. The sort of relationship we can have with him is determined by how we answer.

Savior, Lord, Friend, Christ, Son of God, Teacher, Prophet. How do you answer when Jesus asks you “Who do you say that I am?” The way in which you answer can evolve. At any rate, how you respond to him…

Can change your life.

“He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart.” Isaiah 40:11

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” Luke 24:5

“Star of wonder, star of night, guide us to they perfect light.”

Reasons Good King Wenceslas Stays Relevant: Media Monday

During this year’s Christmas season, social media seems to be crowded with the hashtag #NotAChristmasSong. People, come on…

I remember singing, as a tradition, so many of the songs they’re talking about. Singing them makes me happy and nostalgic. No matter what people think, I’ll continue to sing them. Perhaps for most people, it’s just a joke and they’re not really slamming these songs. They may be trying to make fun of the social media hashtal using their own hashtags. But, in my opinion, some of those folks are a little too serious about what is and isn’t a Christmas song.

A song I remember singing is “Good King Wenceslas.” In reality, it’s not a Christmas song, but a song mentioning the Feast of Stephen. That particular feast is to honor the first Christian martyr, the apostle Stephen. Celebrating that feast is also a way to remember that Christ offers eternal life. Stephen, after all, saw Christ standing at God’s right hand. That gives a whole new meaning to “it’s a wonderful life.”

The song is also a nice story about how a king looked after a poor and probably oppressed man. Now how much more can that be about Jesus?

In the lyrics to the song, the good king welcomes his page to follow in the footsteps he makes in the deep snow.

“Mark my footsteps, my good page, tread thou in them boldly”

How much more could that be about Jesus’ offer to us, “Follow me”?

The page obeys, knowing his King will guide him in safety and security. Even in hardships.

“In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted”

The word dinted means “with force or power.” How much more could that be about Jesus’ character?

Eventually, the story sends a message to everyone, no matter their worldly status, that blessing the poor brings a blessing. How much more could that be about God’s favor?

I invite you to click to see the musical score for Good King Wenceslas, which has all the verses of the song’s music and lyrics. Put yourself in the poor man’s place, receiving gifts from a King. Put yourself in the page’s place, following your Master. (If I was a betting sort of person, I’d wager you can’t read it without singing along.)

Oh, my King and Master, thank you for the position you give me as I follow you. I am lowly as a page, and not deserving of your grace, yet you’ve chosen me to stand with you. May I follow, every day, in your powerful steps and remember to provide justice to the poor and oppressed. Help me to remember how much you love us all. Amen

Fleshing Out a Flannelgraph

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)

When I was a child going to Sunday school in the basement of my church they used “flannelgraphs” to tell Bible stories. A flannelgraph consisted of a flannel-covered board on an easel and cloth Bible characters. The characters stuck to the board as you placed them. Then you’d peel them off and place more characters while telling the story. There was Joseph and his brothers; Noah, the ark and the animals; and of course, Jesus.

The stories I heard about Jesus in Sunday school always made him sound larger than life. He worked miracles healing people and made a little bit of food go around to feed a multitude. He was a pretty awesome Jesus.

Then I’d go upstairs to ‘big church’ and the pastor’s message about Jesus was that he died on a cross for me. That kept Jesus in the larger than life realm. Not knowing exactly what a crucifixion entailed, I assumed it was pretty bad and that I was lucky Jesus would do such a thing for me. The pastor talked about how angry God was about sin and how much I needed his forgiveness. He was a pretty awesome God too, but for different reasons. I made a decision to ask God to forgive me and said a prayer, asking Jesus to come into my heart.

God and Jesus fell into the larger-than-life category for a long time. And there’s nothing wrong with that; they are larger than life. But something was missing and it kept me from really knowing how much I could benefit from the decision I’d made about Jesus. I didn’t know it then, but what I was missing was Jesus with flesh on.

Skip ahead several years. I had become confused and disillusioned by church, leaving it to try my own way of living. I still believed in God, but he wasn’t part of my worldview. Then something happened to create in me a hunger for him and I returned to the church. Because I was hungry for God, I began to read my Bible. In fact, I devoured it. Guess what I found?

I found a Jesus with flesh on.

I don’t remember the folks in the church where I grew up talking about Jesus as a man. They must have, but I was young and mostly hearing the anger part. I never really got a glimpse of Jesus with flesh on until I read about him for myself. As I traveled through Galilee and the Judean countryside with him and his followers I watched him interact with people like a real person would. I saw him express emotions like anger, joy, and grief.

He got tired and slept. He got hungry and ate. He interacted with friends and with some Pharisees (who weren’t always counted among the friendly). He worshiped on the Sabbath. He engaged in normal human activities found easily if you look in scripture.

Maybe it’s the storyteller in me that looks for what’s hidden. I look at more than just the words, and I read between the lines. For starters, he was a carpenter. Imagine Jesus banging his finger with a hammer and getting one of those black fingernails. We know he had sisters and brothers and, though we aren’t told much about his childhood, it must have been a fairly normal one with playtime, chores, and “school”.

Then his ministry began. Look at the loaves and fishes story. After Jesus multiplied the food for the crowds, he sent his disciples on to Bethsaida “while he dismissed the crowd.” (Mark 6:45) Call me goofy, but I see Jesus talking to people as they leave as if he knows them personally. It’s not a “Hey, all of you, clear out of here now” type of dismissal. It’s the type of thing a host would do, saying goodbye to as many as possible and seeing that their needs are met. Anyway, that’s the Jesus I was getting to know.

I got to know this Jesus who was a single man all his life while many his age would have been betrothed or already married. Jesus lost a relative, John the Baptist, to a cruel death and took time to grieve alone before he was called again to minister to the crowds. Jesus’ closest relatives misunderstood him to the point that they tried to manipulate his actions, thinking they knew better what he should do. At a crucial moment, his best friends deserted him. One of his friends took his own life.

After becoming familiar with this Jesus, I realized that I need the God who’s larger than life and truly awesome. But I also need this Jesus who has been human and can understand what it’s like to be me. Many of us have no mate, have grieved the loss of a close relative, are genuinely misunderstood, and have been deserted by a friend.

Jesus with flesh on makes him able to relate to us in every problem and in every success. God wants to get up close and personal. He wants us to know he’s not just a flat personality we peel and stick to our circumstances when we need him. He’s a fleshed-out God who relates to every situation in which we find ourselves. And his desire is that we’ll get to know him as that pretty awesome Jesus.